Monday, March 18, 2013

Sobel Wiki: unilateral assured destruction

This week's featured article at the Sobel Wiki is on the War Without War -- the Sobel Timeline's version of the Cold War. But as is usually the case with the Sobel Timeline, the differences are more important than the similarities.

To start with, unlike our own history, there was no ideological component to Sobel's version of the Cold War. Instead of two rival superpowers with rival ideologies, the War Without War has no less than five major powers facing off against each other: the Confederation of North America, the United States of Mexico, the British Empire, the German Empire, and the global supercorporation Kramer Associates. The British and the C.N.A. are allies (or at least, they are when the C.N.A. isn't feeling isolationist), but otherwise it's pretty much a free-for-all. And the closest thing to an ideological rivalry is the U.S.M.'s populist dictatorship versus K.A.'s corporate meritocracy, with the other three powers all being liberal democracies.

Also, our world's Cold War started with a nuclear stalemate between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. In the Sobel Timeline, nuclear weapons are only invented fifteen years into the War Without War. And the result isn't so much a stalemate as a form of global blackmail. The atomic bomb is first invented by Kramer Associates, and K.A. President Carl Salazar explicitly threatens to use it against any nation that attempts to re-start the Global War. Sobel is at some pains to paint Richard Mason, the leader of the C.N.A., as a fool. Yet Mason is the only world leader to take Salazar at his word. Instead of attempting to replicate K.A.'s nuclear weapons program, Mason is content to allow the corporation to maintain its nuclear monopoly, and allow the C.N.A. to shelter under the nuclear umbrella of Salazar's Pax Kramerica.

The picture we get of the War Without War is ambiguous, because the artist who draws it is an unreliable one. The alternate Sobel who is the nominal author of For Want of a Nail is not an impartial observer of his world. He is a native of Australia, a country that was dependent on huge subsidies from Kramer Associates to survive the Global War, and a country that Sobel himself admits is becoming an economic colony of K.A. At the end of Nail, we learn that Sobel has emigrated to K.A.'s Taiwanese fiefdom under the patronage of Stanley Tulin, Carl Salazar's court historian. Nail can be seen (and in some quarters, we learn, is seen) as a work of K.A. propaganda, praising Salazar and his predecessors, vilifying his Mexican enemies, and seeking to sway North American public opinion away from the pacifistic Peace and Justice Party and towards the bellicose People's Coalition.

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